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Bill Frisell: History, Mystery

Bill Frisell’s spare, mysterioso chordal voicings are as evocative and haunting as the intriguing black-and-white Farm Security Administration photos from the ’40s that grace the front and back covers of History, Mystery. On this ambitious two-CD set, which covers an incredibly wide stylistic range, from gentle heartland melodies to cartoon music, soul music, Delta blues, Malian guitar music, bebop and swirling bits of sonic fantasia, Frisell augments those signature chordal voicings with strings (violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang and cellist Hank Roberts from his 858 Quartet) and horns (Ron Miles on cornet, Greg Tardy on clarinet and tenor sax), achieving an orchestral effect. His longstanding rhythm tandem of drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Tony Scherr completes this eclectic octet.

Much of the original material here comes from a previous collaboration with visual artist (and Frisell’s fellow Seattle resident) Jim Woodring and was premiered back in June 2002 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Since the music at that show was written to underscore very specific images and cues, there is alternately a cinematic quality and chamberlike presentation about much of this stuff. And the quirky, somewhat twisted nature of Woodring’s uneasy images often called for music with a dark undercurrent. As Frisell wrote of Woodring’s wildly imaginative work in the program for the St. Ann’s show: “[It] comes real close to bringing up to the surface a world of things that are hidden, buried things you can only see in dreams.”

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